Deeply disturbing, as expected, The Reckoning is dependent on a barnstorming performance from Steve Coogan. His turn as serious lead over the last decade has been a welcome change of pace, and the controversy he was met with before taking on the role of sick paedophile Jimmy Savile is now a drop in the ocean. An uptick in coverage on Savile has poured out over the last year or so, with a Netflix miniseries and now a BBC-helmed autobiography. There was danger of it running like a criminal clip show of horrific acts carried out by the disgraced disc jockey, but there is character and story to The Reckoning which was, at first, unexpected.
In adapting and understanding the sick crimes which are central to this miniseries is an expected knowledge of the power he held and how it was used. Coogan relays this with chilling accuracy, in part due to strong scriptwriting in those first two episodes, crucial to showing the rise of a predator. The Reckoning is not the one-man show some would believe it to be, though much of it centres on the impact and reactions to Coogan and his leading role. He is uncanny, and much of the focus will of course be on the work he puts in here as the sinister Savile. The wheels come off in the final episode, a hodgepodge attempt at piecing the wilder horrors into one place, from cadavers to claims elsewhere, but by then the portrait is complete and anything added is merely tying up loose ends. There is an attempt to show Savile would not survive the modern world, that much could not be more obvious.
Does it need spelling out? Not quite, as Savile was a strange character and used it to his advantage. Brushes with politics must be better handled than they are in the third episode, with the brief forays with Margaret Thatcher brushed under the carpet and the Royal Family links not mentioned entirely. The BBC shoulders their share of the blame but points fingers elsewhere also, to the societies, charities and religions Savile tried and succeeded in infecting with his vicious cover-up. Brief pockets of time with his victims, who speak frankly and openly about their experiences, usually as a way of breaking up the episode, are a definite and necessary piece. As are the performances of Gemma Jones and Siobhan Finneran respectively. Julian Rhind-Tutt makes a chilling appearance too, lesser so than Savile of course, but the Choirmaster orchestrating the rise and rise of the disgraced disc jockey is well-played by the small-screen star.
A four-part series was, inevitably, going to run out of steam somewhere. The Reckoning has more than enough to spend on its backstory and the heyday of a vicious, disgusting man. The disgrace and horror are tastefully represented, with enough of a clear implementation to highlight the grim troubles which spanned decades and still linger to this day, even after death. Coogan and company do well to bring this horror to life once again, as though there was not enough on Savile post-death. It is the shock of a lifetime because it was, for many, the first major breach of their nostalgia. Savile is no longer the hearty backdrop to childhood; he is and always will be a vile creature who broke the lives of thousands with his actions. The Reckoning does well to show that but cannot keep pace with its own lofty expectations.